1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
“This is not the time for pragmatism or taking the high road. That shipped sailed a while back. The relentless assault by rightwing, extremist elements within the Republican Party want nothing less than your removal from office and before the 2012 election. While stopping just short of implying assassination, the tone of this group could hardly be confused with that of pacifists. There are times when you seek peaceful coexistence; and other times when you fight fire with fire. Guess which time this is, Mr. President?”
My plea, like that of so many others, went unheeded. In less than two years, your apparent apathy and over-developed sense of pragmatism has cost Democrats the House of Representatives and the respect of a good many within your own party. But the worst, as they say, is yet to come. You have been reduced to the political equivalent of a piñata. Your debt deal not only wasn’t much of a deal, it was yet another in a series of bad judgment calls on your part to attempt to find a middle-ground solution in Washington with opponents who wanted no part of a middle-ground solution.
The deal you struck last December during the lame duck session was lauded by many – myself included – as a good deal and earned you praise from a good many pundits who saw your pragmatism as something akin to Bill Clinton’s. You were triangulating in an attempt to win independents and expose and isolate the Republican Party as being intransigent. The new Congress hadn’t even been sworn in and already you were in campaign mode. So what if the progressive base of your party was up in arms. You knew what you were doing; the approval ratings confirmed it.
Well, turns out both you and I were wrong. That deal you struck, which did allow the government to avoid shutdown, along with some other trophies like extending unemployment benefits, ending “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and a host of others, came at a terrible price, and no, the price wasn’t extending the Bush tax cuts, which every progressive railed against. The real price was the signal you sent to the new overlords of the GOP. That signal – initially referred to as pragmatism by the sane and rational – was interpreted as a sign of weakness among the Tea Party. They were prepared to shut down the government and you blinked. In their warped and twisted reality, they won. All they had to do was threaten something potentially damaging and you would come around. Like a weak parent with a spoiled child, you spared the rod, thus enabling the delinquent behavior and setting the stage for further capitulation.
We didn’t have to wait long. You caved again in April. Once more Republicans were prepared to allow the government to shut down, to deprive senior citizens of social security checks and military personnel of badly needed paychecks; once more you stepped in, acted like the adult, only to have junior spit up all over your brand new blazer. They had you and they knew it, too. Despite once more coming out ahead in the opinion polls, the Tea Party had their way with you. But your coup de grace was yet to come.
The debt ceiling is generally acknowledged by most to be the one issue you don’t play politics with. No sane lawmaker would call for the United States to default on its debt; the consequences would be potentially devastating to the nation. Guess what the Tea Party was prepared to let happen?
How shall I count the mistakes you made here? For starters, you had the chance to get a debt-ceiling increase during the December lame duck. You passed it up, naively believing the Republicans would be reasonable when the time came and act responsible. I shall now pause while the other readers of this letter finish chuckling.
Then you had your treasury secretary – you know the one who forgot to file his taxes, yep that was a quite a pip! – call for a clean debt-ceiling increase [Pause for another laugh break]. Given the mood of the GOP that might be the most inane request ever made from a sitting administration. After being thoroughly rebuked – even by the lame-stream media – you set out to find a common sense, middle ground solution. You acknowledged the need to deal with the deficit, which was commendable, but “demanded” that revenue be a part of any deal. Once more, the reasonable adult in the room spoke out, and the polls supported your stance.
The Tea Party however openly mocked you and said no dice. You sent your number two in to negotiate with Republican and Democratic leaders to forge an agreement. Republicans said yes to every cut in spending, then bolted when revenues were once more put on the table. Why, on Earth, would you send Joe Biden in to work out any deal of significance? The man is the gift that keeps on giving to your political foes.
Not one to let a setback keep you from your appointed rounds, you decided to get personally involved and was this close to striking a “Grand Bargain” with John Boehner, only to see it go up in flames when you came back and asked for more revenues. You gave Boehner his out, which allowed him to save face with the children back at the orphanage. That was stupid, sir. You could’ve had your moment; instead they had theirs.
You then spent the next week desperately trying to save the nation from the hostage takers who were threatening to burn everything to the ground. In the end, not one penny of revenues made its way into the final deal you grudgingly agreed to. Your lone victory was depriving the GOP of a chance to humiliate you again next spring. Way to go, Mr. President, you sure showed them.
And what did you get for your largess? A downgrade from Standard and Poor’s, that’s what, who, it seems, are even more concerned about the political circus in Washington than the general public, if that’s even possible. You bent over backwards to appease the most dangerous faction in American politics since Jefferson took up writing, and you end up signing off on a deal that no one – not your base, not conservatives, and, most importantly, not independents – likes. You staved off Armageddon, I’ll give you that, but you weren’t just left standing at the alter; you were left eating your own lunch and looking very much like a president on the run. I hope you had a nice 50th birthday, sir; it’s going to be quite some time before you have anything else worth celebrating.
You’ll get a break for a few weeks. Mainly that’s because Congress is in recess. Even spoiled brats can’t hurt you if they’re in their crib sleeping. Then there’s the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I’m going to go out on limb here and make a somewhat less than bold prediction. Everyone will be on their best behavior that day. You know, we’re not Republicans, we’re not Democrats, we’re Americans, and all that jazz. It’ll be a nice rest bit, if a somewhat bittersweet one.
But then it’ll be back to business as usual. The 2012 budget “talks’ begin almost immediately. The continuing resolution will expire at the end of September, and if no budget or CR is passed by then, the government will shut down. Let’s cut to the chase, Mr. President. Enough is enough! You have been backed into a corner so many times, it’s a wonder you don’t have a hook sticking out of your back.
You know what’s coming; if you don’t you’re the dumbest man in history. And you’re anything but dumb. Naïve maybe, overly optimistic definitely, but hardly dumb. There will be no discussion, or negotiation. And there will definitely be no compromise. They want nothing less than total victory. To a man and woman, they truly believe they were sold out by the leadership of their party, and, if you thought they were impossible to deal with during the debt ceiling crisis, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Like the fable of the Three Little Pigs, they will huff and they will puff and they will once more attempt to blow down your house. You cannot let this happen again. You must draw your line in the sand while there’s still time. Yes, it will mean a probable (not possible, probable) shut down, and yes, that will hurt a good many people. But Clinton said “no” to Newt Gingrich and won. Real leaders know when to stand up and lead.
I have gone through out history and I have not found one president who would’ve allowed himself to be treated in this manner; not Teddy Roosevelt, not Franklin Roosevelt, not Truman, not Eisenhower, not Kennedy, or Johnson, or Reagan, or Clinton, and especially not your immediate predecessor – the “Decider in Chief” – George Bush. To a man, all of them commanded the respect of the office. Their opponents may have had serious disagreements with them from time to time, but certain lines were never crossed, and if they were, there was hell to pay! Even your personal hero, when push came to shove, was willing to go to war rather than lose half his country. But then, sir, sadly, you are no Abraham Lincoln. I think we figured that one out a while ago.
You are running out of time, and the nation has precious little of it left. As I mentioned in my last piece, this isn’t about your reputation anymore; that may be irrevocably damaged. You cannot permit this malignancy to devour completely the body politic. You have made the fatal error of believing you can negotiate with terrorists. You thought they could be reasoned with. You were wrong. They can’t. You must stand up and be willing to show the nation that you will not be bullied into accepting a bad deal merely to appease the foolish whims of ideologues who lack the intellectual capacity to offer up real-world solutions to real-world problems. You must, as I said, “bring a stick into the classroom” and “administer” your own form of “corporal punishment to the wayward children.”
They will demand that the Bush tax cuts be made permanent, mark my words. Tell them “Hell No!” And then stick to your guns. Do NOT cave, as you have so many other times. They will demand draconian cuts in domestic spending. Tell them to climb a tree. Take your case to the American people. You are one of the most gifted orators in politics; now more than ever, you will need that gift.
But you will need much more than that. For once in your life, you are going to have to get your dander up. You are going to have to risk being viewed as an angry black man. Like it or not, you are going to have to drop the Jackie Robinson persona. Face it, sir, they’re spitting on you, and even if they don’t outwardly call you the name you know all too well, privately they’re saying it. You know it, stop kidding yourself. This isn’t 1947 and there’s no Branch Rickey to protect you. You’re all you’ve got; you’re all the nation’s got. You’re also all that’s standing between sanity and insanity.
You have accomplished a lot in your first term. You passed a stimulus bill that, despite its modest proportions, still kept the nation from sinking into a depression; you brought about healthcare reform, after other presidents tried and failed; you saved the auto industry from almost certain bankruptcy. That would be enough for most presidents; in deed it is more than the last three presidents combined can boast of.
And the sad truth is that, with the exception of the faithful few who watch MSNBC (you can send your thank you care of Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz), most of the country doesn’t even know or care. And that is because of one undeniable fact: for all your many talents and attributes, you have been woefully inadequate with respect to blowing your own horn. You cannot even spell the word narrative, much less spin one.
That’s why your opponents have you on the run. Out of the political vacuum you permitted to exist, they have written the fairytale of all fairytales. They have managed to convince an entire country that Hoover was right and FDR was wrong. They have turned the conversation from stimulating job growth to starving the beast. They’re so good at it, they’ve even got you speaking the same lingo.
Unemployment remains high – please spare me with the July numbers for job creation; we both know that number needs to be twice as high in order to significantly reduce the nation’s unemployment rate. At a time when the government should be doing more, we are going in the other direction towards austerity. The result will be a double-dip recession, which of course the Republicans will blame on you. How poetic is their justice?! You’re writing your own epitaph, Mr. President, only you’re taking the whole damn country with you.
There is still a chance to avert disaster. The choice is up to you. Stand up and show some spine and the country has a chance. Continue on your current path and you ostensibly consign the fate of the nation into the waiting hands of the fools and madmen who would see it destroyed.
Knowing your affinity for moderate Republicans who made a difference for their country, I thought I would leave you with two well known and, given your personal difficulties of late, apropos quotes from Teddy Roosevelt. You would do well to memorize both.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
“What I fear is if we do not have some consistent policy to advocate then the multitudes will follow the crank who advocates an absurd policy.”